Power Shift West Convergence 2016 at UC Berkeley (November 11-13, 2016)

 The Power Shift Convergence was an interesting and educational experience! I had the opportunity to meet with and learn what other students and young people in the Western states of the US are doing to preserve the environment. Most of the workshops that I went to focused on engaging students and communities of color with the environmental movement. On Friday night, I attended a post-election healing session where I listened to others opinions and feelings about Trump becoming president-elect. A recurring theme in the overall discussion was shock, anger, and determination. It seemed to be a natural response for everyone to end his or her sentiments with a note of positivity. It helped me to not dwell on the negatives and look forward to the new changes that are coming out of the election, like student activism and a desire/plan to hold the government accountable for the next four years and beyond. After the election discussion, I met with other people who came to the conference from Southern California. I wasn’t sure who exactly would be coming from UCLA, but it was encouraging to see graduate and doctorate students in attendance from a variety of the UC’s including UCLA.

The main events of the Convergence took place on Saturday and had a great start with two keynote speakers that really energized and motivated the crowd and myself. The first of the two speakers, Mark Lopez, is the Executive Director for East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. He spoke about conservation being a colonial concept and how the environment is often defined through whiteness, patriarchy, Christianity and class in that the people who have the most say on what needs to be saved/protected are individuals who identify with or belong to the aforementioned groups. Recent environmental injustice protests like Flint, Michigan’s water crisis and the Dakota Access Pipeline echo the sentiments Mark spoke about and align with his definition of environmental racism being environmental white supremacy. His solution is to facilitate community organization within your own community (and not into a community that you are not from) and allowing the members there to share resources, identify problems and act collectively from there.

 

The second keynote speaker was Khalid Kadir, a lecturer and professor at UC Berkeley in the College of Engineering, Global Poverty and Practice program, and Political Economy. I was really excited to hear him speak because it seems that engineers are an underrepresented occupation in the environmental and conservation fields. His talk focused on the idea that the world’s environmental issues are not due to population, but instead the problem is consumption and that the privilege of some to consume so much of the world’s materials comes at the cost of other people’s oppression. He, like Mark Lopez, discussed and emphasized the impacts of race and class on environmental injustice and boldly claimed that if you are not talking about race, you are not talking about the problem in this country (America), a statement I passionately agree with.

I loved that both speakers come from such different academic and professional backgrounds, but had similar ideas about how to solve the world’s environmental issues and how to handle/combat environmental injustice and racism in the US. From my summer in Arizona/Utah with Doris Duke, I came to my own realization that race plays an enormous and important role in the ways that environmental issues are approached and solved. Because America and many of its ideals were created on the institutional system of racism and prejudice, it makes sense that so much of what we see today of environmental injustices greatly affects historically marginalized communities of color.

I attended workshops throughout the rest of the day, the first one titled “Alive Together-Cultivating a Culture of Recognition in the Age of Extinction”. The workshop focused on the emotional and mental well being of individuals dedicated to working in the environmental movement. We discussed with other participants in the workshop how we heal spiritually and emotionally and what all we can do/are doing to be regenerative. It was interesting to learn how some people escape to nature to heal or how others give back to and volunteer in their communities for fulfillment. One theme for regenerative measures to take place was to demand a higher level of transparency in institutions of power so that individuals can mobilize and understand what all may affect them.

The second workshop I attended was a panel called “Scales of Displacement, Politics, and Representation”. The speakers talked about displacement not being a physical act only and that often times it is forced upon people of color by white supremacy and corporations. Their discussion was characterized by hope in that they shared their belief that every human being has the capacity to change, though it starts with a willingness to listen. I learned that education begins with storytelling of your own life and story. They discussed the power of activism and protests in confronting power systems and creating an equitable world.

The last two workshops I attended were “More than Just a Grocery Store: Justice Through Democratic Food Systems” and “Empowering Students of Color in Environmental Organizing”. In the democratic food systems workshop we looked at the benefits of locally run co-ops in comparison to the other ways college students get food. I found that though food collectives can be successful on certain campuses, at colleges that are very urban in location, it is hard to develop a co-op that can adequately serve its community because of a lack of space to grow food and a lack of interest from the community. The workshop on empowering students of color focused on the formation and mission of the Students of Color Environmental Collective at UC Berkeley. It was interesting to learn that some of the challenges they face are problems many student organizations of color face, like a lack of respect from other clubs and low membership numbers. I found it comforting to know that I experience the same difficulties they do and to see how they have persevered through those challenges to provide their members with awesome experiences/club interactions.

Overall from the conference, I felt energized and motivated to continue to fight for and protect the environment. But one thing, I couldn’t help but notice was the imbalance in racial groups present at the Convergence. There was a significantly smaller percentage of people of color at the conference in comparison to white attendees. I think it speaks volumes that a  lot of the groups of people that are directly impacted by environmental injustice were not at the Convergence which is something I think environmental leaders have to actively think about/consider and is also something the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program addresses.

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